My brother told me about a conversation he had with my niece. She wants to enter a fiercely competitive field, full of people who seem so much more qualified and suitable for it than her. He stopped her as she talked herself out of it, mid-sentence of self-doubt, mid flourish of the tendency to accept failure before we even begin. And simply said to her, ‘Why not you?’
Of course he then went on to list all the reasons why she should try, why she was as competent as the next person and so on. But it was those three words which struck me.
Most people I meet are a lot more talented, creative, hard-working and loving than they give themselves credit for. We are pretty realistic too, so often the things we aspire to are not way out of reach. If we can just make the leap of faith to try, or in some cases feel we are worthy, then who knows where we might end up.
To believe in ourselves enough to attempt the things we want is tough. There is absolutely no guarantee of ease and success. Rejection and failure happen and are good reasons not to put yourself out there. Sometimes the things we seek are not realistic but isn’t hanging onto what we can’t achieve a way to avoid what we can. Yes, the trip could be a disaster, the relationship awful and bruised with regrets, even the career you’ve worked so hard for may be full of disappointment.
But what if it wasn’t?
Want to feel that sparkle not the dread of the unknown? The glow of satisfaction that your hard work is paying off. The promise of possibility and optimism which brings us to life. The readiness to make a difference? In which case, ‘Why not you?’
‘I loved… against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be.’ Charles Dickens-Great Expectations
Near where I live is a spectacular coastal cliff path. A half neglected track of rubbly rocks fringed with those tough looking shrubs which can survive howling winds and salty air. It is the perfect place to clear your head. And along the path is a lookout thrust out over the sea. For years, lovers, family and friends have attached lovelocks to the railings much like the bridges in Paris. But one day they were all gone. The lookout had been remodeled and all the lovelocks removed.
But last week I went walking along that path, some new locks had been added and it made me smile. I’d just read this quote from Great Expectations with Pip describing his feelings for Estella. Now we all know our great romantic loves and passions may not last, they may be misguided or ambushed by life, but for an instant, for a while, it is one of life’s great gifts to love another person. Lovelocks like love in real life can be removed or be transient but for a moment they are a symbol of our conviction, optimism and capacity to give of ourselves.
In a world so full of distrust and disharmony it is important to remind ourselves that love exists and is thriving. However you choose, loudly or quietly, or even with a lovelock, it is important to declare our love and promise to the people we cherish. They may be a partner, a relative, or a friend but by doing so we set an example that to live with love and hope is better than to live with fear.
There is a Pima story from Southern Arizona which has always made me smile. My favourite version is from the book, And It Is Still That Way, which I found when I was living with my grandmother in America.
One night all the dogs gathered for a dance in a field. Dogs came from far and wide. To dance better they took off their tails and hung them on corn plants. But the dogs were startled and in a panic they grabbed any old tail. When they got home they realised they had picked up the wrong one and that is why they sniff each other. They are looking for their own tail.
In a world so full of self pressure we can be like those dogs. Not literally sniffing each others behinds but in a frenzy finding our own identity. Why is this so hard? Are we reared on comparison and the belief we are never enough or even too much? Maybe. Are we so bombarded by the expectations of others we have lost ourselves? Perhaps. Or is it a mixture of all these things which set us adrift and in so doing we lose our authentic selves.
Being our authentic self is hard and often it doesn’t last forever but when we are being true it’s like wearing our own perfect tail and it sure feels good. The desire to compare yourself to others slips away and instead of finding fault you can find joy in who you are. When we are our true selves we can really appreciate the essence, energies and spirit of others.
Things that stop us finding our tails are feelings of doubt and uncertainty, we are nervous and hesitate to trust our individuality. Instead we can waste time mulling on the idea that other people are doing better but in reality they are probably managing life’s ups and downs as well as we are. So don’t try to wear somebody else’s tail because it just won’t fit and will probably look ridiculous.
In the story the dogs never do find their own tails, they are still looking, but we can. The right tail feels authentic. It adds to you rather than detracts, swooshes with ease and confidence. So believe in yourself because your tail will never look good on someone else and there’s will never be right for you.
Story Acknowledgement. And It Is Still That Way, Byrd Baylor, IBSN 0-939729-06-7
You know sometimes we are so bombarded by where we should be finding inspiration that we can forget to look around us. We become so preoccupied with that greener grass, tempting us from the other side of the fence, that we ignore our own backyard. If you find yourself daydreaming more than doing, wishing more than appreciating, have a look for your inspirations close to home. Be mindful of your current environment, be present, and allow yourself to experience it in as many sensory ways as you can.
- Your local natural world is a wonder. A garden, a park, a beach, whatever is near you, observe it. Albert Einstein summed this up so beautifully, “Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better.”
- Find a possession which you love. A painting, a book, a plant. Something, which every time you see it, you feel lucky to have. Imagine the journey it took to create it, the hours, or the passion which inspired it.
- Remember feelings of accomplishment and achievement, find the items which remind you of your successes. A photo, a card, a present. They are our symbolic trophies, so stop and reflect on the work it took to receive them. Let them be a source of future inspiration.
- And listen to your own personal soundtrack. Music takes us to the good times and the bad. It allows the mind to wander which can lead to a new path.
It is often the smallest, most mundane of things, which combined correctly, produce the greatest of things. The details of the world give an authenticity to creative work. And, who knows, your next great inspiration could be a lot closer to you than you think.
Love your thoughts…
Art work by @Dana Kinter- a wonderful artist who inspires me.
Recently I was lucky enough to travel to Cambodia. A long-held dream to visit Angkor Wat and the mighty temple complexes was realised. I came away with my head full of images and stories and truths of a civilisation so sophisticated it staggered me. Along the way I was also swept up in local tours and attractions but the one which truly struck a chord was a lotus flower farm.
The lotus flower is a sacred symbol for Buddhists and Hindus and flourishes across South East Asia. On the edges of Tonle Sap, a huge fresh water lake, our guide took us to a lotus farm. Like a paddy field, raised muddy walkways surrounded huge ponds, thick with rubbery lotus leaves, buds and pink flowers. Right on cue the afternoon monsoon rain arrived. Huge warm drops, splashing onto the plants and churning the pond water.
I had never really looked at lotus leaves but in the down pour I watched them. Water gathers on the leaves and it moves like balls of mercury. Sometimes they collide with each other and sometimes they roll and cascade over the edge. The self-cleaning properties of a lotus leaf cause water droplets to scoop up dirt and stop it sticking to the leaf. Of course the science is fascinating. How amazing for something to be able to self-clean and like butterfly wings the lotus leaf is the subject of much investigation. But more than that was the way the droplets moved. Totally at the mercy of the pond or the crash of a rain drop.
Our guide came and stood beside me. ‘You know,’ he said. ‘We think of our lives like the water on the leaves.’ We watched as a small drop joined with a bigger one. Others scattered and shifted across the leaf, all on different paths. The pond rippled and our big drop rolled closer to the edge. As a wave hit the leaf it tumbled overboard. He smiled, ‘See, like life. We never know when we are going to live or die.’
The image of that pond, in the rain, in Cambodia, stays with me. The lotus effect is not only a scientific breakthrough but a powerful lesson in acceptance.
When I was little my favourite piece of clothing was a pair of dungarees with a yellow embroidered patch on the bib. Written across it, in bright rainbow letters, were the words, Have A Nice Day. And whenever I wore those dungarees I did. I’d run into the playground, pigtails flying, happy and excited about a new day rich in possibility.
If you have children, work with them, or pass a young child on the street, nothing beats the smile you see when they’ve picked out their own clothes and dressed themselves. They rock stripped tights, superhero costumes and cat’s ears like nobody can. Take a leaf out of that book. You don’t have to wear something crazy but wearing something you like and feel good in can kick start the day.
You don’t get a much more durable clothing item than denim dungarees. And what was the best thing about wearing them? They were perfect for playing outside. It’s hard to have a nice day if you don’t see it. So even if you can’t get outside, by looking at the morning sky, taking a few deep breaths, we can feel rather than think about the opportunities for the day ahead.
One of the best things about those overalls was that other kids said hello because of the patch. I was listening to talk-back radio and a caller from a small town phoned in to say they had begun a wave initiative. The residents wave and smile, or say hello, to people they pass. It was developed as a mental health response to combat isolation and depression in small communities. A smile or wave is an easy way to foster a nice day for yourself and others. It won’t change someone’s world but for a moment there’s a positive human connection.
Now, I don’t have that patch anymore but for all its cheesiness it is a great sentiment to wish to yourself or those around you. So seriously, ‘Have a nice day.’
Are you feeling turbulent? Out of sorts. Not at ease.
We all go through those hours, days, weeks or even longer when we just feel like we can’t get it together. No matter how hard we try our tummies churn and our minds leap between self-doubt and disaster. For many years I’ve tried to fight against the inner turmoil. Tried my best to think my way out of the negative feelings which can grip me. But the struggle leaves me exhausted and often the thoughts which overrun me are still lurking.
So I’m trying a different approach. Accepting that my worries are a part of me. Instead of catastrophizing the big picture I’m trying –and please note I say trying!- to look at my intrusive thoughts with more impartiality. Acknowledge and accept they are there but not buy into the emotional responses which accompany them. Sometimes I can only manage this distraction for a minute or so but sometimes hours pass before they re-occur. The more time between the thought and my emotional reaction to it the better.
There are many wonderful resources to support us with retraining our thinking. And one thing I do now, when my mind runs away, is to try to breathe deeper and smile. Even though the smile may be awkward and forced it does promote a mind-body kinship which helps my thoughts feel more peaceful. What are some of the things which work for you?
“Procrastination is the thief of time.” Edward Young
Procrastination is a sneaky thing and you can find yourself doing it without even realising. We all have things we are putting off and I’m giving myself a bit of a shake down because I know I’m procrastinating.
When I got my first teaching contract the class teacher I took over from told me the children had a busy book. I wasn’t sure what that was but on closer examination it was a book where children could work on tasks when other work was finished. After a few days I realised the busy book was a great distraction and that busy work was a great way to avoid harder more demanding activities. I think we are all a bit guilty of doing busy work which often mimics the things that need doing. We are doing something but if we’re honest it’s not always the stuff we should be.
So if like me you’re using busy work to delay a job, task or project it’s probably time to break down why.
Worried about outside influences and opinions. This is a very real reason for procrastinating. No matter how much intrinsic motivation we have most of us do care a bit about what others think. We may not want to offend, we may be worried about criticism, or we simply don’t want to put ourselves out there. Sometimes doing nothing is easier than facing the hard stuff. But in the long wrong are we only putting off the inevitable.
Not knowing where to start. You’re staring up at a mountain with no idea how to climb it. So you can either run back to the chalet or just begin. I’ve decided not to look at the top because that’s way too overwhelming but instead gaze a little bit higher than where I am standing. A different perspective does make things more achievable and I’m more inclined to try.
Not quite ready for the hard work. Doing something challenging is not easy and often the things we procrastinate about are difficult for us. They may be so close to our hearts we don’t want to try in case we fail. But if this is the case than the not doing can be even more soul-destroying as a bad outcome. If we don’t try we can be on the slippery slope to self-sabotaging and no one wants to go there.
By honestly breaking down the reasons why we are procrastinating we can address them. Busy work is more than happy to get in the way of tackling something important or necessary. But by starting on the things we’ve been putting out off we are beginning our escape from the avoidance trap. And it feels so much better…
The end of the year is often a time for self-reflection.
We can all be super critical of ourselves and while analysis of what we didn’t do can move us forward it can also pull us down. So in pursuit of optimism and to see 2016 out with a bang instead of a fizzle, I’ve pulled together some ways to reflect on the year with a softer, kinder lens. Take a moment to reflect on what you did do, not what you didn’t…
- I bet you loved unconditionally.
- I bet you learned things you didn’t know last year.
- I bet you have supported someone other than yourself.
- I bet you maintained, rekindled or developed a friendship which brings you joy.
- I bet you have got through a personal challenge.
- I bet you indulged yourself and didn’t feel guilty about it.
- I bet you accomplished different things than you intended.
- I bet you got knocked down but you got up.
- I bet you had a really good laugh.
- I bet you did many acts of random kindness.
- I bet you were braver than you thought you could be.
Imagine reflecting on your year as a friend would and I bet you’ve done a pretty awesome job…